Status of Women minister apologizes for racist, sexist essay contest in Alberta

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Status of Women minister apologizes for racist, sexist essay contest in Alberta
There's backlash to one of three "Her Vision Inspires" essays picked by an Alberta government committee, in which the author argued the sexes are not equal, women should pick children over careers and urged more procreation among Albertans to preserve "our community, culture, and species." Lisa MacGregor reports – Aug 9, 2022

A winning essay from a recent Alberta’s Legislative Assembly contest that went viral has resulted in an apology from Associate Minister of Status of Women Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk.

The contest, which wrapped up at the end of February, only recently released the first, second and third place pieces.

The Opposition NDP has since called out the third-place selection as racist, sexist, misogynistic, transphobic and fascist.

Dubbed Her Vision Inspires, the essay contest asked Albertan women between the ages of 17 and 25 to submit a short essay describing, “their unique vision for Alberta and, specifically, what they would do if they were a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta,” according to a news release dated Feb. 3. Winners received prizes.

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The February release said the essay contest was administered by the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Canadian Region in partnership with the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

Janis Irwin, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, was one of many who pointed out the third-place winner’s essay.

She called on Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA Armstrong-Homeniuk, as the Alberta representative for Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Canadian Region, to explain how the contest she helped launch could let a submission of such foul nature win.

At a news conference Tuesday morning, NDP children’s services critic Rakhi Pancholi spoke specifically on two excerpts from the essay.

The first: “Women are not exactly equal to men. This biological reality is also under attack by present-day delusion. To try to promote that women break into careers that men traditionally dominate is not only misguided, but it is harmful.”

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Pancholi said the author writing this sends a terrible message to the young women of Alberta an
d it’s a message she completely rejects.

“Women are working hard to break through barriers in a society where sexism is prevalent and continues to keep them from achieving financial, physical and psychological security,” the critic said.

“And as leaders, we must never stop pushing for more women and male-dominated industries.”

The second quote from the essay she touched on was: “While it is sadly popular nowadays to think that the world would be better off without humans, or that Albertan children are unnecessary as we can import foreigners to replace ourselves, this is a sickly mentality that amounts to a drive for cultural suicide.”

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Pancholi called it an “absolutely reprehensible claim” to which it gives “a nod” to the racist replacement theory, which is more formally known as the “great replacement theory.”

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It’s a conspiracy theory that claims there’s a plot to diminish the influence of white people. It’s an ideology the RCMP say is used to recruit young people, according to Pancholi.

“This is absolutely horrific and these comments should be condemned by elected leaders.”

The essay also says families should be rewarded “for their reproductive service both with financial rewards to offset the financial burden they are taking on and with medals to symbolize their valuable achievement of having 2+ children.”

The Opposition NDP likened that to Nazi Germany, which awarded Cross of Honour of the German Mother medals to women who had “genetically fit” children.

Pancholi added an apology by Armstrong-Homeniuk is warranted, along with public knowledge of who the other female MLAs were on the essay judging panel, as she said no one from the NDP was invited to judge the contest.

Status of Women associate minister apologizes

A late Tuesday statement from the associate minister said she does not support the rhetoric in the essays that “in any way diminishes the importance and contributions of more than half of Alberta’s population.

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“It’s clear that the process failed, and I apologize for my role in that. The selection of this particular essay and awarding it with third prize was a failure on my part as the head of the judging panel.”

Armstrong-Homeniuk did not list who else was on the judging panel.

When asked what actions her party would want from the author, Pancholi said she believes their views expressed are deeply misguided and that she can’t comment specifically on the writer.

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Armstrong-Homeniuk told The Canadian Press while the contest was designed to embrace a range of viewpoints, she doesn’t agree with the essay and says it should not have won a prize.

The associate minister sat on the judging committee, but her office declined to provide details on the names of the other judges and why the essay was picked.

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A statement from CWP said it was not involved in the essay contest, directing all questions to Armstrong-Homeniuk.

“This was a local Alberta initiative,” the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Canadian Region said in a statement.

Her office added the third-place winner won a $200 prize to be spent at the legislature gift shop.

The Alberta government told Global News it removed the essay from the website when it was made aware of the inappropriate material.

“Neither the Speaker’s Office nor the Legislative Assembly Office were involved with the selection of the essays in any capacity, including who was on the MLA panel judging the contest,” the statement from the Legislature reads.

“The content is abhorrent and does not reflect the views of the Speaker or the Legislative Assembly Office.”

On Tuesday, the website’s URL led to a 404 page not found error code.

Leadership candidates chime in

Three candidates in the race to replace Premier Jason Kenney as party leader and premier also took to Twitter to criticize the award.

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“It’s a disgrace that an essay saying women are not equal to men won an award sponsored by government. Women, and their contributions, are equally valuable and amazing whether we are moms or not. Can’t believe this needs to be said,” wrote Rebecca Schulz.

Rajan Sawhney followed up, writing, “Agree, Rebecca. Same goes for the comments about ‘foreigners.’ Alberta is the proud home of people from all over the world _ from Ukraine, to the Philippines, and everywhere in between.”

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Leela Aheer said, “Well, I read 1st and 2nd place (essays). Those were great! I’m not sure how the 3rd essay elevates women.”

Lise Gotell, a women’s and gender studies professor at the University of Alberta, said the essay perpetuates an essentialist, sexist and racist point of view stemming from the long discredited and outdated concept that a women’s role is to reproduce as a bulwark against immigration.

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“The fact that it was chosen says a great deal about the views on appropriate gender roles being advanced by this government,” said Gotell in an interview.

“This essay reads like something that quite frankly could’ve been written in the 19th century.”

— with files from Adam Toy, Global News, and The Canadian Press

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